The ultimate packing list

What to pack for a trip to Europe, how much to bring on your travels, and how to fit it all in a single carry-on with room left over for souvenirs

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This is the very same packing list I use before setting off on a trip (well, not the sundress or feminine hygiene stuff), whether it's a six-night jaunt or a six-month research trip. The only thing extra I bring is a laptop for work purposes.

I've Got the Whole World...In My Pack

The Eagle Creek Thrive 65L travel backpack with zip-off daypack
Luggage like the Eagle Creek Thrive 65L travel backpack with zip-off daypack lets you travel the world out of a carry-on–sized bag.

Actually, if it really does feel as if you've got the whole world in your pack, you've done something wrong. Truth be told, you can easily travel with a carry-on-sized backpack as your only piece of luggage, and still have room for souvenirs. Here's how.

The best all-around luggage choice is—brace yourself—a carry-on-size backpack Partnerwith a zip-off or packable daypack. Hard-backed suitcases are cumbersome and heavy, huge frame packs are for hikers, and both need to be checked on airlines—a wholly unnecessary hassle.

With a carry-on-size pack, you can hop on and off the plane, sling your stuff on your back whenever you need to hoof it, and it’ll force you to pack light.

Now, “carry-on size” is determined by each airline individually, but is always measured by adding together all the dimensions (length plus witdth plus height). Note that for many lately it has been slipping from the old 60" to around 42" total, so when shopping for a bag make sure it fits those smallest requirements. That way just about any airline will O.K. it.

The Clothes Make the Traveler

The five cardinal rules of traveling clothes: 1) Nothing white; 2) Nothing that wrinkles; 3) Clothes you can layer; 4) lots of pockets; and 5) Very few. Clothes take up the most space in your luggage, so don’t pack many. Just get used to doing a bit of laundry each night or two in your room.

Urban Europeans dress pretty snappily—not necessarily in the latest Armani suit, but well nonetheless. While you should travel in whatever wardrobe makes you feel comfortable, you’ll probably be happier fitting in, so save the Bermuda shorts and sleeveless T-shirt for that trip to Hawaii.

Note: In the churches of some Catholic countries—Rome’s St. Peter’s included—there is strict dress code that forbids shorts, skirts above the knee, and bare shoulders. Pack accordingly.

2 pairs of pants (men/women)—Take quick-dry travel slacks (with secret pockets); I always make one a pair convertible pantsmagellans so I don't need to bring extra shorts.
1 pair of shorts or convertible pantsmagellans with pockets (menmagellans/womenmagellans)—European adults don’t often wear shorts, but they’re good for hiking and, for men, as swimsuits (women: buy a swimsuit there if you need it).
1 long skirt or dress—The skimpiness at which your respectability will be questioned varies with the country, so hedge your bets with something long.
4 pairs of underwear (men/women)—They even make disposable underwear now for men and women.
4 bras or camisoles
4 pairs of socks
3 T-Shirts/tanks (men/women)—Wear under long sleeves so the easily washed T-shirt will soak up all the sweat. Get quick-drying tops, not cotton.

2 long-sleeve shirts (men/women)—Button-down collared shirts are respectible enough for all occasions, and travel ones have hidden pockets, sun block, and easy washability built in.
Sweatermagellans (menmagellans/womenmagellans) or blazer (men/women)—Warm, and dressy. I go for the sports jacket (for pockets), though in winter also bring a thin sweater for layering.
Jacket (men/women)—Only necessary fall through early spring.
Long Underwear (men/women)—Only for visiting northern countries from late fall to spring.
Good walking shoes (men/women)—No dress shoes, heels, flip-flops, or anything you can’t walk in all day for two weeks straight. (Travel-worthy Mary Janes are also OK.)
Hat —The Tilley Hat is the ultimate travel topper.
Belt—Those with a hidden zipper let you hide your passport photocopy and some emergency cash.

Keeping Clean

Minimize toiletries spillage disasters by storing everything in resealable plastic baggies. Maximize the tiny space inside a bathroom bag with sample sizes and by putting shampoo and detergent into small, screw-top plastic bottles—bonus, this makes them TSA safe.

Keep toiletries and cosmetics to a minimum. Perfume or cologne on the road become vain deadweights and spills waiting to happen (imagine everything in your bag drenched with Chanel no. 5). And for women, trust a touch of red lipstick to be formal enough for any occasion.

ToothbrushPartner & small tube of toothpaste
Small soap bars & small shampoo—Bring the soap sliver from your bathtub to start; steal more from hotels as you go.
RazorAmazon & shaving cream—(Battery-op shaversAmazon are O.K. (electric razors just bring the hassle of electrical converters and adaptors).
Medicines—Prescriptions should be written in generic, chemical form (not brand name).
Extra glasses and contacts— Count on losing them, and bring a hard glasses case. Also, bring enough saline solution to last (parts of Europe sell it only in glass bottles).
First-aid kit—Take at least: a few Band-Aids, antiseptic ointment, moleskin for blisters, aspirin, Dramamine or motion-sickness wristbands, hand lotion and lip balm (traveling promotes chapping), sunscreen, Pepto-Bismol (indigestion and diarrhea), and decongestant.
Comb/flat brush

Laundry kit—To do your wash on the go in the bathroom sink, you need travel detergent (biodegradable), a braided clothesline (the twists act as clothespins), a sink stopper, and I suggest the truly remarkable Stain Eraser and Janie Spot Cleaner (perhaps I'm a slob, but I need them at least once per trip). All available at travel and camping stores, or from Magellan's.
Towel—H2G2 fans don't need to be told this, but a shammy-style camping towel or even small terrycloth towel is a lifesaver when confronted with Europe’s nonabsorbant, waffle-pressed jobbers.
Feminine hygiene products—You can buy tampons abroad, but take what you need with you, especially if you’re brand-loyal.
Condoms—US brands are safer.
Pocket-sized tissue packs—Invaluable for sudden spills, substitute napkins, bathroom emergencies, signaling surrender, and, if still clean enough, runny noses.

Documents & Sundries

Don’t forget to carry your most important documents—passport, plane tickets, railpass, traveler’s checks, driver’s license, and credit cards—in a moneybelt. Carry your daily needs items in a small backpack or security purse (designed to foil pickpockets and purse snatchers).

Guidebooks and phrase books
Journal and pens—You won’t remember it all half as well as you imagine.
Camera— Bring extra batteries. Tote it in a purse or mild-mannered daypack, not a “steal-me” professional camera bag.
Film/Memory Chips—Very expensive in Europe. Airport X-rays will fog higher speed films, so stow the rolls in large, see-through plastic baggies for hand-inspection.
Tripod—I like QuikPod set that includes both a miniature tripod and a telescoping monopod designed to extend your reach to take pictures of yourself (YouTube here you come!).
Tiny flashlight
Travel alarm clock—Battery powered.
Plug adaptors—For charging your digital camera, cell phone, etc.
Chargers/cables—I carry all my plugs, cables, and adaptors in a small toiletry bag.
Cell phone Magellans—Only bother bringing yours if a tri– or quad-band world phone with AT&T or T-Mobile (on the GSM standard used in most of the world).
Bug spray—Most countries have yet to discover window screens.
Swiss Army KnifeMagellans or Leatherman/multitoolMagellans—Most useful features: screwdriver/can opener, blade, corkscrew (for picnics), tweezers, scissors, nail file. Remember: pack it in your checked luggage.

Address list—Friends appreciate postcards at the time more than a slide show afterward.
Small bottle of water—Buy them as you go, but always have one; outside of Europe and the North America, carry a bottle with a built-in purifier or get a sterilizer.
Luggage locks—Get enough for every zipper; make sure they're the kind approved for TSA use.
Sleep Sack—If you'll be camping or staying in hostels.
Tiny folding umbrella
Pocket sewing kit—Trust me.
Duct tape—Ditto.
Novel—For long plane and train trips. Many hotels have rotating bookshelves to trade for a new one when you’re done.
Teensy binoculars—Maybe I'm getting old, but increasingly I find these useful for admiring distant frescoes, wildlife, landscapes, popes, etc.
Driver’s license & International Driver’s Permit—Only if you plan to rent a car.
Wallet—But keep important stuff it the moneybelt.
MoneyCredit cards, ATM bankcard, traveler’s checks, and cash (euros if you got 'em and some emergency dollars).
Passport—You won't get very far without it.
Airline tickets—Crucial.


This article was last updated in March 2008. All information was accurate at the time. | | |
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